Tourism trumps titanium on Wild Coast

The Eastern Cape government and the United Nations this week signed an agreement for the development of the Wild Coast that does not include mining.

The deal was sealed in East London at a groundbreaking conference on the provinces response to climate change.

It followed Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangus suspension last week of a controversial mining licence granted to Australian company Mineral Commodities to mine sand dunes for titanium at Xolobeni on the Wild Coast.

Mickey Mama, the general manager of the Eastern Cape department of economic development, environmental affairs and tourism, said a one-year memorandum of understanding was signed last Friday with UN agencies, lead by the UN Development Programme.

Over the next year a scoping exercise would review all developments along the Wild Coast and this could lead to a five-year partnership. Mining was not part of the picture, she said.

We want to incorporate environmental benefits with economic development in rural areas, said Mama.
We are not starting over, rather building on existing projects.

The UN has supported several environmental projects and ecotourism ventures along the Wild Coast, but they have been in decline since the mining licence was granted in 2008. UN representatives were at a bosberaad this week and were not available for comment.

The Eastern Cape government was the first provincial government in the country to launch a climate-change response strategy. Its an ambitious plan that involves all sectors of society in mitigating actions that cause climate change and setting up adaptation measures to deal with its impact.

Mcebisi Jonas, the provincial minister of economic development, environmental affairs and tourism, said practical interventions were needed to counter the threat of climate change.

Studies show the Eastern Cape is vulnerable. The sea is already encroaching on the land and on coastal communities, he said.

With the focus on building a green economy in the province 11 flagship projects were showcased at the conference as part of a climate change action support programme.

One ingenious project envisages the large-scale planting of spekboom, an indigenous plant that absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it. The project aims to create about 1000 jobs and raise more than R200-million on the global carbon trading market.

Sybert Liebenberg, chief executive of the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency, said a pilot spekboom project in the Baviaanskloof reserve near Port Elizabeth was already raising funds by selling emission-reduction credits in industrialised countries under the Kyoto protocol.

Carbon credits create commercial value for conservation. People are realising that our unique ecosystems can generate revenue through carbon sequestration, he said.

Spekboom was endemic to Eastern Cape thicket, was a gourmet food for rhinos and successfully rehabilitated degraded lands, Liebenberg said.

Spekboom carbon sequestration projects would be developed in Addo National Park, the Great Fish River Reserve and along the Wild Coast.

This project will deliver far greater value than mining. The Wild Coast is a biodiversity treasure and the most valuable tourism property in the country, said Liebenberg.

The national environment department signed an agreement at the conference to support the roll-out of the spekboom project and the Development Bank of South Africa undertook to manage its carbon funding mechanism.

A green hub set up in East Londons industrial development zone includes the manufacture of solar thermal collectors and energy created from waste. Other projects dotted around the province cover a range of renewable energy and biodiversity management programmes.

With the windy weather along the Eastern Cape coast, the biggest job creator and climate change mitigator is expected to be wind farms. Numerous farms are planned in the province, but were not featured at the conference because the industry is still being regulated.

Jonas said the provinces response strategy and showcased projects were trendsetters for other provinces in the run-up to the global COP17 climate change negotiations in Durban later this year.

What we are doing is not high-level strategy, but a practical response to climate change. We are putting together the technical capacity to grow our green economy and received great buy-in at the conference from national and development agencies, he said.

Fiona Macleod

Fiona Macleod

Fiona Macleod is an environmental writer for the Mail & Guardian newspaper and editor of the M&G Greening the Future and Investing in the Future supplements. She is also editor of Lowveld Living magazine in Mpumalanga. An award-winning journalist, she was previously environmental editor of the M&G for 10 years and was awarded the Nick Steele award for environmental conservation. She is a former editor of Earthyear magazine, chief sub-editor and assistant editor of the M&G, editor-in-chief of HomeGrown magazines, managing editor of True Love and production editor of The Executive. She served terms on the judging panels of the SANParks Kudu Awards and The Green Trust Awards. She also worked as a freelance writer, editor and producer of several books, including Your Guide to Green Living, A Social Contract: The Way Forward and Fighting for Justice. Read more from Fiona Macleod

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